Thursday, April 17, 2008

Old Vans and Angels, Part Three

We had been sitting in that van for an hour and a half but, even though it was close to zero degrees outside, it had stayed relatively warm. I was only then starting to feel the cold. The children slept through it all.

Two highway patrol men, in separate vehicles, pulled up next to me. I was struck by how young they were. My knights in shining armor. As Rob would say later, "These are the kinds of happenings that make their day -- rescuing a mom and seven kids in the middle of the night."

The patrol men helped me gather the children from the van to their patrol cars. Sparky had slipped off his shoes and they were nowhere to be found. The patrol men told me not to worry about it, as they carried Sparky to the patrol car; they would take care of everything and the important thing now was to get to a warm place. "But, we have to at least find the little cooler," I said, "it has Sparky's medicine. He has to have it." Again, I was reassured, "Don't worry, we'll come back and get everything. Let's get these kids to someplace safe."

Of course, in my feeble mind I was replaying how we just threw everything into the van in our hurry to beat the ice storm. How embarrassing to have my knights deal with that mess. But they were right, we needed to focus on the kids.

The older children went in one patrol car. The baby and younger children went with me in the other. If you've never sat in the back of a police car (and I sure hope you haven't), it's made of molded plastic and there are no seat belts. Buster was concerned we were breaking the law by not having proper car seats and belts. I reassured him that we were with the police and they weren't about to arrest us.

As we drove, the patrol men were talking to one another on their radio, "What hotel should we take them to?" I interjected, "Someplace cheap!" After all, I may have just killed my only source of transportation and was therefore likely broke.

In a few minutes, we were pulling into a newly built Embassy Suites. I thought to myself, "Did he not hear me say cheap!" But I kept quiet, I was grateful for their help and wasn't about to complain.

We must have looked a sight, walking into the hotel lobby. Almost one o'clock in the morning with seven little children, including one without shoes. I asked the hotel clerk as I checked in, "How much is going to cost?" She looked past me and sweetly said, "I just got the nod from the hotel manager. There will be no charge." It took every ounce of energy in my body not to break down crying. I had prayed for help, but I never imagined this much help. And, this was only the beginning.

The clerk loaded me up with chocolate chip cookies and milk for the children (our suite had a kitchenette) and there would be free breakfast in the morning. The patrol men helped me get the children to our room. They left with the reassurance that they'd be back with our belongings.

My first thought was to call Rob, he'd be worried sick. As I dialed his number on the borrowed cell phone, it went dead. The batteries lasted only as long as I needed them. I called him on the hotel phone.

"What in the world was that message you left me? I couldn't understand a single word you said!" Oops, I might have been a little flustered when I left that message. I explained all the events of the evening and assured him that all was well now. We expressed our love for one another and promised to talk in the morning.

I hung up and the patrol men were knocking on the door. They had Sparky's shoes, the medicine cooler, all our luggage, and the baby's portable crib. They gave me the name and number of the auto mechanic where my van was being towed. I thanked them profusely as they went off into the night, sure to save other damsels in distress.

As we nestled down to sleep, Teen Son said, "Mom! We know someone in Fort Wayne! Mr. Erlandson!" He was right. Our Sunday Visitor is in the Fort Wayne area and I knew the publisher from a recent writing project. "It's a little late to call Mr. Erlandson now Sweetheart," I said, "but I'll call him first thing in the morning."

We all slept incredibly well that evening. Perhaps it was the knowledge that everything was in God's hands. I woke up refreshed and started making phone calls. First to tell Rob good morning. Then to the mechanic, who told me that my van was put first in line.

Next, I called OSV. Greg asked the name of the mechanic and it turned out that he knew him from his parish. Greg assured me that the mechanic was a good, honest man. He also said that his wife would be coming out to visit us after she got the kids off to school. Another angel -- she brought treats for the children, crayons and coloring books to keep them busy, and swimming suits if they wanted to take advantage of the pool. I couldn't ask for better friends.

It turned out that the distributor had caught on fire and the entire electrical system was shot. I was relieved that the repair would be relatively fast and reasonably priced -- $800. I called Rob, and he said to go ahead with it. It was a lot of money, but considering the the severity of the damage and the fact that I was 125 miles from home it was okay.

Check out time was at noon, so the kids and I packed up and headed to the lobby. The car would be done by one and we could wait there. I called the mechanic from the hotel courtesy phone at the desk. The van was ready, but they would have to pick me up in the tow truck. The hotel manager overhead me as I responded, "I'll just have to leave my 13-year old to watch the other six in the lobby." The hotel manager spoke up and volunteered to drive the children and me in the hotel van.

This has been a long story and we're almost to the end, but the best par tis yet to come.

I paid the bill at the counter and began to walk out the door when the owner came running after me, "Excuse me, excuse me, I have something to show you." He took me back to his desk and held out his hand. It held a molten blob and he said, "This is your distributor." He held out his other hand, "This is a brand new distributor." You would never know that the two things were related in any way. He continued, "I had to show you this because in all my years in this business I have never send a distributor in this kind of shape where the entire vehicle didn't go completely up in flames. Angels were looking out for you!!!"

At that moment, all I wanted to to get out of there and get home. As I walked out the door, I thought that I should go back and get the molten blob. After all, it would make a cool conversation piece on the mantel. But, I couldn't do it. I couldn't waste even two minutes. I had to get home, to Rob, to my own house, where is was safe and comfy.

When, two hours later, the kids and I walked in the front door, Rob was waiting for us. He hugged me like he never hugged me before. I began to cry, "Oh Rob, I'm so sorry. $800 is so much money. Money we don't have."
"Maureen, I don't care about the money. You and the kids are okay. That's all that matters!"
"Can I buy a new van?"
"Are you kidding, we just spent $800 on this one!"

And, it was just as well because that old, beat-up van went on to provide me with many other opportunities to pray and for God to send me angels.

Oh, BTW, the ice storm never came.


Frances said...

I have enjoyed this story, Maureen - thank you for taking the time to type it all out. It's too bad you didn't bring home the blob, though. I still have the funky piece of metal we used to start our diesel U-Haul van when we drove from NJ to NC. The key no longer started the engine, so, with instructions from a grass-chewing mechanic, we used the metal thingy to make a bridge between the battery and some other part of the engine. Crazy! Travel horror/blessing stories are great - more so in the retelling, right?.

Anonymous said...

Great story!

The worst that happened to me was when our van broke down with 5 kids all under the age of 7, in the middle of ghetto Atlanta. It just so happens that when I pulled off the highway, there was an auto store there and between all of the men inside, (whom were like get this white chick's car fixed and out of here quick before she gets killed) I was up and running again in a few hours. No cell phone either back then. We homeschool mom's are so simple eh?

I often still pray for the men that helped me out. Thanks for the reminder. It has been awhile since I thought of them.

Loved it Maureen!

Renee said...

Maureen, thanks for sharing your story. You had an entire crew of guardian angels watching out for your family....